The 17th of Cheshvan: When the Great Flood Began
by Sarah Yehudit Schneider
R. Tsadok explains that HaShem was hoping to bring down the Torah in Noach’s generation. All the pieces were there, including the soul of Moshe Rabbenu, which the Talmud (Chulin 139b) proves from a verse in Bereshit, 6:3, which contains the word, beshagam, a word whose primary distinction is that its gematria is the same as Moshe (345). The verse describes HaShem’s “disappointment” with the fallen state of humanity and opens a discussion that ends with His decision to blot out creation through flood.
And HaShem said, My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for that he is also flesh; therefore his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.
The pshat (literal sense) of the verse isn’t relevant to the Talmud, only its context and the appearance of a word with the same gematria as Moshe. And so, teaches R. Tsadok, HaShem wanted to bring the Torah down then, as soon as possible after Adam, and if that generation had been worthy, so it would have been. The Talmud (San. 108b) teaches that HaShem tried several strategies to bring the generation around. First He bribed them with a taste of the-world-to-come, hoping they would see that it was certainly worth their while to rise to the occasion. When that failed he started the rains gently, showing that the threat of flood was real, but giving them a week’s reprieve and one last opportunity for teshuva.
If only they had seized the moment, turned over a new leaf, and dedicated their lives to truth and good…they would have received the most precious gift in the universe, the holy Torah…which, as we know, is always compared to water. Instead, in stubborn arrogance, they turned their backs on this golden opportunity, persisting in their wayward path. Those same awesome Torah lights now crashed down, no longer expressing themselves as sweet, life-nourishing wisdoms…rather, instead, as mayim zedonim , destructive, hurtful flood waters. From the negative we learn the positive. As great as the flood’s power of devastation, so is the Torah’s power of tikun.
Noach’s generation was offered the highest honor possible in the universe, the opportunity to receive the Torah. They blew it, and those very same lights that contained the sweetest teachings of the universe, now manifested as raging waters of death and destruction. All this happened in the month of Cheshvan.
R. Tzadok uses this to prove an amazing and relevant teaching. He derives a spiritual law from Noach’s story. R. Tzadok says that it is always true, that whenever we stumble in our lives, (be it our spiritual lives, emotional lives, career lives, whatever) there was some blessing that was trying to come through in that moment, and for whatever reason we didn’t rise to the occasion — perhaps we didn’t get the message at all, we didn’t even know that there was an opportunity at hand; perhaps we underestimated the value of what was being offered so it didn’t seem worth its price tag; perhaps we really did try to seize the moment but couldn’t manage to change a bad habit that was blocking the way — whatever the reason, we blew it. HaShem offered us a gift and it slipped through our hands and the worst part is that it feels like there’s no second chance. The moment is gone it won’t come again.
R. Tzadok says no, in fact the opposite is true. That blessing that was slated to come into our lives is permanently connected to our soul. And not only is it bound to our soul, it is an actual piece of our soul, a spark of ourselves that got lost out there and needs to be brought back in.
So, HaShem guides us step by step, moment by moment, from coordinate A to coordinate B, because in each moment there is a spark, a lost splinter of ourselves that needs to be rescued and brought back in. Slowly, day by day, as we move through life, we become more whole, for we are constantly absorbing new lights that were really part of ourselves all along. The recovery of a piece of our soul is always (eventually) experienced as a blessing.
Based on this model, according to R. Tzadok, there is always a second chance, and a third, etc. However many chances we need to get it right and earn the blessing…for the spark inside that blessing has nowhere else to go. Its home is our soul, and eventually every scattered/shattered spark must find its way home.
So how is this true for the flood generation? How do we see them recovering their lost blessing of the Torah? Amazingly, the Ari teaches that the generation of the flood will reconvene as the souls that comprise the generation that greets mashiach.
And one thing we know about the messianic time is that all the Torah’s hidden teachings will be revealed. The midrash says that the Torah of mashiach will be so radiant that all the Torah we’ve learned thus far, all the sweet and holy teachings that fill our libraries—that have rejoiced the hearts and brightened the eyes of generations—are dull husks before the lights that will shine as Torah of mashiach. The generation of the flood will get all that they lost, and more.